Practicing Law, a Profession or a Business?

by Rodney G. Snow
This is my first article to the Bar membership. Thank you for your support. It is an honor to serve each of you as bar president. I most appreciate the many friends I have made over the years in the Bar. I always welcome any suggestions you have for a better Bar. In fact, I look forward to hearing from you.

While the Bar Commission will determine our priorities for the coming year, I do not anticipate any significant changes in that respect. The focus will be on civic education on the fundamentals of our democracy and the importance of the rule of law, an independent and properly supported judiciary, and access to justice.
Thank you to our past president, Rob Jeffs of Jeffs & Jeffs in Provo, Utah. Rob was instrumental in leading the Bar Commission in many key initiatives last year, including: launching the Lawyer Advertising Committee to determine if our current rules are adequate to deter misleading advertising; creating our Modest Means Committee as a way of matching counsel at lower rates for those in our court system who need representation but otherwise could not afford it; launching an exciting public relations effort to inform the public of the many services provided to our communities by lawyers and the Bar; and implementing much-needed revised Client Security Fund rules. Rob continues to serve on the Bar Executive Committee and as a co-chair on the Lawyer Advertising Committee. He is a true professional in every sense of the word.
Congratulations to our president-elect, Lori Nelson of Jones Waldo. At the ABA convention this last week in Toronto, Canada, Lori received the Outstanding Service award from the Family Law Section and was elected as secretary of that section. We are fortunate to have Lori as our president-elect and a member of our Bar Commission.
The Law has always been a proud tradition of service. This year, we hope to continue that tradition in ways that are meaningful to our communities and responsive to the challenges of our current economy. In a paper titled “The Changing American Lawyer,” Thomas D. Morgan, a Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School, noted that the legal world’s game of musical chairs stopped in 2008. And didn’t we all notice? We now face a much different world.
Morgan explained that in 1970, there were approximately 300,000 lawyers in the United States. Today we have approximately 1.2 million lawyers, more lawyers per capita than any place in the world. In 1960, fewer than twenty U.S. law firms had over fifty lawyers. In 1968, only twenty firms had over 100 lawyers. Today, we have two law firms with over 3500 lawyers and twenty firms with over 1000 lawyers. We are graduating approximately 40,000 law students per year with no sign of that number decreasing – even with a downturn in law school applications.
As our numbers continue to increase, we face a crisis in our public image. Recently, the Atlanta Bar Association conducted a survey regarding the public’s complaints about lawyers. The results are disturbing. In summary, the public believes that (1) lawyers are more concerned about money than they are about the justice system they serve; (2) lawyers are more concerned about winning than about truthfulness and are willing to bend or break the rules with little concern that our self-regulating profession will impose sanctions; (3) our litigation system costs too much and takes too long and lawyers are not motivated to change that system because it is against their self interest; and (4) lawyers, through advertising and otherwise, encourage frivolous litigation and some lawyers are not competent to handle matters they undertake.
Public education regarding our system of justice is clearly lacking. And maybe we have allowed the law to become more of a business than a profession – the profession we were thirty or more years ago. I do not underestimate the forces that drove the law practice in this direction: high overhead, including competition in salaries for new graduates, technology advances and costs, and health care and other insurance costs. Nevertheless, this business model started drowning in 2008 and may only have a few gasps of breath left in it. Change will be forced on us if we do not get ahead of it.
This is a call to reinvigorate the professional side of the law practice, to emphasize that we are people lawyers as well as business lawyers, to work together to bring down the high cost of legal fees, and to develop better and more efficient methods of providing legal services to the poor and underprivileged.
In 1986, the ABA Commission on Professionalism issued a comprehensive report entitled “In the Spirit of Public Service: A Blueprint for the Rekindling of Lawyer Professionalism.” In that report, the Commission adopted the definition of “profession” espoused by Dean Roscoe Pound: “[Profession] refers to a group…pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service – no less a public service because it may incidentally be a means of a livelihood. Pursuit of the learned art in the spirit of a public service is the primary purpose.” ABA Commission on Professionalism, In the Spirit of Public Service: A Blueprint for the Rekinding of Lawyer Professionalism, at 10 (1986).
Thank you for your willingness to provide public service, whether in the legislature, on a board of education, volunteering for pro bono work with Utah Legal Services, or serving on one of our many Bar committees. Let’s remember our roots and the great accomplishments of the past brought about by lawyers and continue the tradition of public service. It should not go unnoticed that the country with the most lawyers per capita remains the country with more bedrock freedom and economic opportunity than any other country in the history of the world.

Comments are closed.